tv [untitled] March 18, 2012 4:00pm-4:30pm EDT
in 1838, push comes to shove, that's our default year. 26 states in the union, michigan being the most recent. population of the united states is probably around 17 million or so people. they do a census every ten years so we don't quite know yet but it is probably about that. it was 13.5 million back in 1830. it's a time when the railroad is coming in. our county soot of woofter worc. it is not quite as old-fashioned as some might thing but the telegraph is patented in 1837. the industrial revolution is well under way. a lot of the cloth we're wearing is factory made. still sewn by ladies at home but made in the textile mills of new england. there's over 700 of those. but most people are still living on farms, following agriculture
and the land, growing things like corn over here and living in fairly modest homes. the home behind me is on the smaller end. it's one of the few we actually built here. that's about 600 square feet. which represents about a quarter or so of the housing stock of rural new england. america was not only a younger nation but a poorer nation than it is now. most of our buildings though are antiques that we've moved here from the six new england states. we've opened to the public in 1946, been open ever since as a private not-for-profit educational corporation. we're trying to show people bits and pieces of every day life from the decade of the 1830s. >> watch american artifacts every sunday at 8:00 a.m., 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. eastern time on c-span3's american history tv. visit c-span.org/history.
coming up, a program on african-american work and life in washington, d.c., especially in the area around the white house known as president's park. we'll hear from lonnie bunch, director of the new national museum of african-american history and culture. and from george mason, history professor spencer crew, who explores the lives of free blacks in the 18th and 19th centuries. katherine malone-france for the national trust for historic preservation ends this discussion with the slave quarters across the street from the white house. decatur house. the event took place at st. john's church on the edge of president's park. [ applause ] >> thank you so much, neal, for that kind introduction. i can always tell when my staff works on an introduction for me because they tell you everything about me except the fact that i was president of my third-grade class.
two years in a row. [ laughter ] there's hope for everybody. i can't tell you how pleased i am to be here today, to be part of what is a very important conversation that will illuminate african-american life and work in this neighborhood, which has always been an incredibly important integrated neighborhood. but as i thought about this today, trying to think about how i felt about being here, i kept remembering a letter that i received when i was at the smithsonian, which i guess is now. and the letter said -- well, it started out dear left-wing historian, so i knew it wasn't going to be good, but forget that part of the letter. the letter went on to say that the author worries that we are spending so much time looking at african-american life and culture. as he said in the letter, you are talking about things that
sometimes are better left unspoken. after all, and this is a direct quote, america's greatest strength is its ability to forget. okay. i needed a job. but with today's program, what you do is you ensure that america remembers, that america remembers many people who are left out of the historical narrative, that what you're doing today is you are making those that are invisible visible, that you are giving voice to the anonymous. there is nothing more important than doing that. and i'm pleased to be here as director of the newest smithsonian museum because in part this is a museum that believes and recognizes that all that we're doing is standing on the shoulders of many of you who have done this work for generations, who are providing new insights into our history, into our past.
but i'm pleased to be here as the director of this museum because in many ways what you're doing is what we do. this program really does ensure that people will be remembered. but it also takes african-american life and uses it as a lens, understand what it means to be an american. that's what this museum does so well. and in essence, while i could talk about the museum forever -- i won't -- the goal of the museum is simple. the goal of this museum is not to just create a great green building, although it's going to do that. its goal is not to just find wonderful artifacts, although we've done that. and its goal is not to just build great exhibitions. but, rather, its goal is simple. this museum should make america better. this museum should find a way to help people have candid
conversations to find real reconciliation and healing over the chasm that has divided us the longest -- race. and i have to tell you, i'm honored to be here to introduce to you someone whose life, whose career has made america better. now, i can tell you a lot about spencer crew. let me tell you, we have closed dives from johannesburg to tokyo. we have done the hardest thing two historians could ever do, that is collaborate with writing effectively for years. but i think that what i really want you to know about spencer is without a doubt he is one of the most gifted and celebrated historians in america. he is a scholar who was trained well both at brown and at rutgers. but what he's been able to do is something that many of us admire. he's been able to straddle the line as both an academic historian and a public
historian. but even more importantly than that, spencer crew has done something few of us get to do. he has reshaped and changed the chosen field, his field of public history. think about what this man has accomplished. his amazing work as a curator, curating the most important exhibition in the last 30 years, i would argue, "field to factory: voices of the great african-american migration." that exhibition alone changed the way we think about museums. it changed who attended museums. it changed the way we thought about what you needed to have in terms of artifacts to tell a story. and in essence anybody who ever walked through that exhibition when it was at american history for many years was transformed. and that's the highest accolade you can give somebody. and spencer has been fortunate to share his curatorial skills with us. he's curated numerous
exhibitions. one of the things i love the most is that he and i got to co-curate the american presidency, a glorious burden, which is the most popular exhibition barely beating out first ladies at the museum of american history. but in many ways what i think is important is that spencer's been able to not only be a gifted scholar but also a gifted leader. spencer worked for more than 20 years at the smithsonian, at the museum of american history, and the last nine he led and reinvigorated that museum as its director. and then the city, the country was fortunate that he went to cincinnati to run the underground railroad and freedom center, in essence, legitimizing a very important cultural institution. so in essence, what i would argue is that all of us who care
about history, all of us who care about museums, all of us who care about public education and understanding of the african-american past, of the american past, should be grateful for the life and career of spencer crew. join me in welcoming dr. spencer crew. >> thank you, lonnie. the check will be in the mail. what a pleasure to be here this morning, and good morning. >> good morning. >> i don't know quite what to say after that introduction from lonnie. he and i have been good friends for a long, long time, and i sort of measure what i do by how
well lonnie responds to it and assesses it. so that assessment from him means an awful lot to me in terms of just thinking about the things that have happened in my life, but also how fortunate i've been to have good friends and good scholars around me to help me do a lot of interesting things. i'm pleased to be here this morning, to be a part of this very exciting conference. and my excitement springs from a couple different sources. first of all, i'm always happy to be at a meeting of people who care about african-american history and people who want to learn more about the roles and the activities and the involvement of african-americans in the communities where they live. but i'm also excited about this because african-american history is such an important part of our lives and of the history of this nation. i was lucky enough to have been at the recent groundbreaking of the national museum of african-american history and culture.
what being around lonnie always reminds me of is that the idea of american history and african-american history are vitally intertwined, they're one in the same, that we cannot truly understand our history as a nation without including the diversity of stories and individuals who should be a part of that conversation. african-americans have been involved in nearly everything that's happened in the history of this nation. they are at its founding. they are at its growth. they nurtured it growth. they've been a part of everything this nation has done. and i think our task is to make sure we understand that role but also recognize how it's helped to enrich this nation as it's developed into one of the foremost places in the world. this fact i think is important because we need to know that our
history, african-american history, is american history, and as we learn more about it, we learn more about who her as americans, we learn more about what this nation has to offer in terms of diversity and its richness. and i think it makes us a better nation in the nation of the world around us. and i also think that it's important for us to think about african-american history in connection with the white house, in this neighborhood that's near us, because when we think about the history of the white house, there is sort of an anomaly that's constantly connected to that institution. it's the issue of race. it's the issue of america. it's the issue of what we stand for versus what we sometimes represent to the rest of the world. and i think the white house in particular, we look at its history and understand what it's been through and where it's been, we begin to see that irony, we also understand how the neighborhoods around it play an important role in shaping its history and shaping the destiny of this nation. now, i don't know if you all know this -- i know the historians in the audience do --
the white house wasn't always around the corner. did you know that? nobody knew that. lonnie, you know that. well, what i'm saying is that when the white house or the place where the president first lived was created, there was no washington, d.c. in fact, when george washington was sworn into the presidency, he took his oath at federal hall on wall street in new york city in 1789. and then he took up residence at a place called the samuel osgood house on cherry street in manhattan. so the white house didn't have its start here. he served as the first president in that house from april of 1789 until february of 1790. he then, with the congress, senate, house of representatives, and the rest of the federal government, relocated from new york city to philadelphia.
and there he occupied a mansion located in the central part of that city, once occupied by robert morris. washington finished his term in office in philadelphia. he never served as president in washington, d.c. and then he was followed up there by john adams, who was the second president of the united states, who occupied that same building until he -- until the white house was completed here in the district in 1800. so for nearly a decade the philadelphia mansion served as the white house of the united states. it was the seat of the executive branch of the federal government and was a place for both the public and the private activities of george washington. he met dignitaries there. he met his members of the congress there. it was the center of the activities of this country for a very long time. now, the irony, though, is that while he was there in his
official residence in philadelphia, he also had there with him a wide variety of individuals who helped run that white house. among them were nine enslaved individuals who he had brought with him from virginia to help run that white house in philadelphia. among them was his cook, hercules, who was renowned for his ability to fashion wonderful meals for those who came to the white house. what's particularly ironic, though, when you think about his being in philadelphia and bringing enslaved individuals to that city, pennsylvania in many ways is one of the most enlightened of the states during the united states during this period. according to its laws of that state, if you are an enslaved person and if you were brought to philadelphia or to pennsylvania and you stayed there for six months, you were free. but yet washington brought his enslaved people there. he knew this law.
and what we've found out in researching is that every four or five months or so washington would take his enslaved people and they would go on a picnic to delaware. now, it must have been nice to get out. it must have been nice to get in the countryside and have a little food. but at the same time what washington was doing was making sure they didn't stay in pennsylvania for six months to make sure they stayed enslaved. it's interesting to think about this. here he is the president of the nation founded on the declaration of independence, founded on the constitution, founded on the ideas of freedom and liberty and equality, and yet at the white house in philadelphia he has nine enslaved individuals who he very consciously keeps enslaved by making sure they're not in that state consistently for six months. what's also interesting, though, as we talk about white house and nearby communities is that the nearby community in philadelphia was a very active african-american community as well.
many african-americans had relocated to that city and had a very vibrant, free, and african-american enslaved community around philadelphia. and they were very much interested in helping those enslaved who either came into philadelphia or wanted to escape to philadelphia to gain that freedom. in fact, that very act of african-american community is the source of the creation of mother betle ame church in philadelphia, the first african-american church of this nation. so, again, we have this irony. we have washington in philadelphia in the white house with nine enslaved people in a community, a nearby community that wasn't necessarily supportive of this idea of enslavement. and, in fact, one of those who were enslaved with washington in philadelphia escapes. her name is oney judge. she was the enslaved servant of martha washington, had been her enslaved servant for many, many
years. one night they asked her to go out to get food for the next day. she went to the market and she didn't come back. oh, my goodness. that's what george said. that's what martha said. at first they were worried that maybe something had happened to her, that she'd been kidnapped or killed or murdered. but later what they found out is that she turned up not at the local market but in new hampshire. i say to people that i don't like cold weather. most african-americans i know -- and i could be wrong -- don't like cold weather. so this woman wanted to be free because she went to new hampshire to get away from george washington. now, what we do know is she got there as a result of her interaction with a nearby community in philadelphia of african-americans and abolitionists who sheltered her, who gave her food, and then put her on a ship that allowed her to get to new hampshire to a life of freedom. her escape represents that irony that exists of a president who
talks about freedom but also a president whose actions did not fit the power of his words. i bring this up because it gives us an interesting conflict in washington, d.c. when the capital is moved to washington, d.c. and john adams comes down here to be president, we find, in fact, the environment in which this new white house is built, in which this new white house exists, is not that different in terms of the irony that exists there. now, the first irony is the fact that john adams from new england, a non-slave holder, is then followed by three presidents who are all slave holders -- jefferson, madison, an monroe. in addition, the district of columbia itself was infused with slavery and an african-american presence because this new capital of the nation after much negotiation is located between two slave states, virginia and maryland. so we put our nation's capital
in the middle of a part of the country where slavery is embraced and encouraged. in addition, the district of columbia itself had a fairly active and large african-american community. in 1800, 25% of the population of this country -- of the city was african-american. they totalled a number of about 4,000 individuals, but about four-fifths of them were enslaved people. the city they came to in which they were building the white house was one in which slavery was an important part, a critical part of its operations. now, these numbers were swelled in part by the officials who came to live here and be a part of federal government, because many of them brought slaves with them. now, you would think that most of these slaves were coming from states in the south. but, in fact, that's not the case. in 1800 you still had slavery in many northern states as well. so northern officials coming t
also were bringing their enslaved individuals with them so that this was an accepted part, an embraced part of the lives of many people here in washington, d.c. slave trading also took part as a regular aspect of the life here in washington, d.c. slaves from maryland and virginia and delaware were often sold at auctions in the district south. the economies of virginia and maryland were beginning to take a downward turn. they had a surplus of labor that they didn't know what to do with. so what they began to do was to sell them and send them further south so that washington, d.c., becomes a critical place where this thing begins to happen. the other challenge that they faced -- sorry. i lost the page here.
as a consequence of this growing slave activity in the city, you begin to see auction blocks and slave trading taking place all throughout washington, d.c. they, in fact, were a common sight in the city. what is now potomac park in southwest was the location of an auction block. b street in georgetown had auctions of slaves taking place there. in fact, i do tours with my students and we go by that location. the tavern on 13th and f street northwest had slave auctions taking there. and right near here in lafayette square inside of the white house you can see slaves being sold and sent further south. quite a few of these individuals who were enslaved played a very important part in the growth and development of this city of washington, d.c. we know that enslaved individuals were involved in the construction of the white house, the construction of the capitol building, the construction of the smithsonian itself and other
structures around the city. we should also not overlook, though, that besides being enslaved, the free were having an impact on the city as well. probably the most important well-known person is benjamin banneker, himself free, who helped to lay out and set up the city of washington, d.c. through his mastery of astronomy an of mathematics. there also was an advantage to being enslaved and living in the district of columbia because life in urban settings was much more fluid than it might have been in the rural settings outside of the city. you had greater freedom of movement and more choices for those who were enslaved, because your life here had more flexibility to it. in the course of the chores you had to expend while working here, you had a chance to get outside of the house you were working, a chance to have interaction with people around the city, you had a chance to talk with them, to hear their ideas, to see different kinds of ways of life and other possibilities that one might
face. indeed, it made life have more options and more varieties connected to it. and i think this was a plus for those who were living in washington, d.c. plus, they also had the opportunity often to hire out. hire out meant that you had the chance to -- if you had skills, to create a contract or agreement with your slave holder. and what you would say is that since i have the skills of a carpenter, what i propose to do is that i will pay you a fixed amount of money every year in exchange for you allowing me to go out and find work on my own. frederick douglass did this as a caulker in baltimore. and essentially in exchange for this you're given a lot more freedom. and for the slave holder it meant he didn't have to provide you with food, didn't have to provide you with clothing, nor did he have to provide you with a place to stay. that you had to do on your own amount of money. while it was a burden for those who chose to do this, it also
freed up their lives, gave them more options and choices in terms of what they could do, creating a separate life and existence for themselves. and in addition, they had a chance to live in the city in a much more vibrant, diverse, and interesting setting in which to make choices about their future. the other advantage is that there's a growing free african-american community in washington, d.c., during this period. and what they do as well as offer alternatives about a different way of life, a different set of possibilities. again, if you read frederick douglass, he talks a lot about this in baltimore. you can translate this to washington, the fact that his having freedom of movement, interacting with a free black community changed his perspective, allowed him to see the world in a different kind of way, to understand the possibilities in a different kind of way, as well. in fact, there is a growing free black population in washington, d.c., throughout the 19th century.
after the american revolution, laws in both virginia and in maryland are loosened to agree that more and more slave holders are allowed to free their slaves. and a number of them take advantage of this in part because of the decline in agricultural economy that i talked about before, but also because there are fairly active abolitionist societies in both those states, and the pressure they bring to bear also causes a number of individuals to make the choice to give them their freedom. many of them, when they got their freedom, moved to washington, d.c., moved to the district of columbia, moved to this new city on the potomac river. what it offered is all the things i talked about before -- greater flexibility, greater choices, a chance for a different kind of life. they came here hoping to find employment, employment in the building trades or the service sector as waiters, as cooks, or as hotel workers.
they also hoped to find limited opportunity in the federal government as messengers, as janitors, as maids in a variety of things serving the members of congress. and they come here despite the fact that washington, d.c., is not exactly the best city in the world in which to live for someone who is free and black, because there are laws on the books which very much restrict their choices and their options. for example, in washington, d.c., african-americans had a curfew. you had to be in by 10:00. you might suffer being arrested. they were not allowed to carry firearms or attend disorderly meetings as defined by the police or to bathe in the river. that last one i could go along with. i don't know why you'd want to do that. but not allowed to do that. and by the 1820s free african-americans must register with local authorities to show that they have freedom papers, that they are, in fact, free or they were subject to being arrested and maybe thrown in jail and possibly put into slavery.
but even with these restrictions, by 1830, free blacks were one-half of the african-american population of washington, d.c., and 15% of the total population of the district. and they then became an important and active part of the communities here. in fact, you have a number of african-american communities that grow up around the city by the 1830s. there's a large group of them located in fourth street in southeast, also clustered between east capital street and independence avenue in the city. there were also several in sections of 14th to 16th streets in northwest along i and k street not far from where we are today. so we begin to see that there are growing communities of african-americans in the city who are vibrant and creating self-sustaining institutions and organizations and businesses. among them were an oyster house
at 15th and pennsylvania avenue at the washington hotel run by a man by the name of jesse garner. it was a pretty successful business. it's so successful that he decides to open a second shop that focuses on the shoe care business. and he advertises it as offering service unsurpassed by any business anywhere else in america. so he's doing pretty well. he's proud of what he's accomplishing. there are other businesses run by african-americans that are located along pennsylvania avenue. ralph king has a business, and that's accompanied by what is called the epicurean eating house run by beverly snow, in downtown washington on pennsylvania avenue and sixth, not too far from here. in fact, there's a riot that occurs around that place called the snow riot that's connected to that location. also you have smaller african-american operations, such things as fruit stands, hat businesses, vendors of baked goods, fish, or even hot cider.